The syllabus below has been edited to take out the GW-specific bits.
Language and Politics
Weds 6:10 – 8:40 pm (EDT until Nov 1, then EST)
Instructor: Peter Loge
“The world is still in want of clear-headed citizens, tempered by historical perspective, disciplined by rational thinking and moral compass, who speak well and write plainly.”
– Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College
Last updated 9/23/20
This course will investigate the connection between language and the political world around us. We will explore both the theory and practice of language in politics and discuss the implications of these explorations on the creation and consumption of politics.
This course is roughly divided into three conceptual chunks: foundational questions about where meaning ‘comes from’ and whether or not words themselves ultimately ‘mean’ anything; case studies of how words work in politics and policy debates; and a larger discussion of what happens when language starts referring to other language as proof rather than referring to ideas or objects in the outside world. Throughout the course we will be discussing the ethics of political language.
While the course will focus on words, we will also discuss the role that images, sounds, and other things play in the creation of meaning. The last chunk of the course will especially focus on the topic of systems of signs or systems of meaning.
You will be expected to do the readings, think about their connections to events in politics, and participate in class discussions. Quality of insight is better than quantity of words, and challenging questions and questioning of assumptions is always more interesting than just tagging along.
The success or failure of this class rests largely on you and your colleagues. If you listen closely to your peers, make unexpected connections, and take intellectual risks, the fall will be a very interesting conversation.
Four short essays, each worth 10% of your final grade (total of 40%)
Final paper 30%
Final exam 20%
You will be required to write four short essays. They should be no longer than 500 words. I will stop reading at the 500th word, and grade you only on what I’ve read. No late papers will be accepted.
Each essay is worth 10% of your final grade (combined they are worth 40% of your final grade).
Essay #1 is due by the start of the second class session (Sept. 9) and should discuss a piece of political language and its implications – for example what the words “anchor baby” imply, why Republicans would want to call the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare,” or if there’s a difference between “climate change” and “global warming.”
Essay #2 is due by the start of the October 14 class and should discuss the connection between language and politics – what it is, what it should be, and the implications of the connection (or disconnection).
Essay #3 is due by the start of class on November 4 and should compare and contrast two readings from the semester.
Essay #4 is due by the start of class on November 20 and should examine the relationship between a metaphor and public policy.
For your final paper you will be required to do a thorough analysis of a piece of political language or a political image or develop and defend a position on the role of language (broadly defined) and politics.
One option is to find an image, word, etc., and explain something about it – what it means, how it came to mean that, the historical development, its implications, etc. Your paper should include reviews of others who have written on your topic and should place your analysis in the context of that research. For example if you write about the Confederate Flag, you should discuss others who have written about the symbolic power of flags in general, as well as those who have written about the confederate flag. An important element of the paper is the “so what?” You will be expected to not just describe something, but connect that description to larger events or issues. In the above example you could provide ideas on how to resolve the controversy around the Flag.
Another option is to develop your own theory of language (verbal and/or visual) and politics. If you choose this route you should be sure to include those who have already written on your subject, anticipate and respond to criticisms, and demonstrate why your approach is superior. For example you could critique Lakoff and suggest your own explanation of metaphor in politics.
The final paper should be between 15 and 25 pages long. I expect these papers to be top quality, that you will footnote your claims, cite your works (any form of citation is acceptable as long as it is complete and consistent), and that there will be no grammatical or spelling errors.
The final paper is due at the start of the last day of class, December 9th. It is worth 30% of your final grade. No late papers will be accepted.
I encourage you to begin thinking about your final papers early in the semester and to consult with me along the way. I am willing to read drafts, look at outlines, talk about ideas, and so forth.
The final exam will be a take-home exam and consist of one or two essays. It will be due at the end of the scheduled final exam period for this class. It is worth 20% of your final grade.
Class participation is worth 10% of your final grade. You are expected to constructively add to the conversation, which means you should do, think about, and be prepared to talk about the readings. You are also expected to pay attention to the political world around you and think about it in terms of the course. You should have ideas and opinions and be able to defend them.
You will not be rewarded for just talking a lot.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Available in most decent bookstores and online
Other readings are listed in the course schedule below. In addition I may email articles or essays during the week that strike me as interesting.
You have several ethical responsibilities in this course. This is a small group, in a small space, for several hours at a time. For this adventure to work for all of us, each of us needs to do the readings and think about them. We must respect each other’s positions on the readings, and honor intellectual experiments (the “what if….” positions); that means people should be willing and able to change their minds, to defend their positions, and challenge the positions of others. Critically, one should never confuse an argument with the person making the argument – positions are not people. This means you should not attack people, only their claims and you should do so based on reasoning. Similarly, you should defend your positions as if they were ideas to be kicked around, not children to be protected.
I work from the premise that you are all adults. I don’t take attendance, but you are responsible for everything that happens in class. If you miss a session, you should find a colleague from whom to get notes, readings, etc.
There may be guest speakers and the schedule of readings and discussions may change.
Sept. 2 Introduction
Lecture: The Course in an Hour
Sept. 9 Question for discussion: Is the attempt to teach the art of politics noble or foolish (at best)?
FIRST ESSAY DUE
Write the first essay discussing a piece of political language and its implications – for example, examine the difference between “conservationist” and “environmentalist,” “global warming” and “climate change”, etc.
On Writing Well Chapter 1, 2, 3, 6, and 14
Protagoras by Plato, available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1591 and elsewhere.
Sept. 16 Question for discussion: What does language “talk” about?
Selections from Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure
Selections from C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards The Meaning of Meaning
“Language, thought and reality: a comparison of Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics with C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richard’s The Meaning of Meaning by David West, Changing English Vol 12 No 2, October 2005 pp 327-336
Sept. 23 Question for discussion: Does there need to be a “truth” outside of language for us to act as if something is true?
“The Contingency of Language” Richard Rorty, London Review of Books Vol. 8 No. 7 April 17, 1986
Sept. 30 Question for discussion: Does metaphor structure (political) thought?
“Conceptual Metaphor in Everyday Language” George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Journal of Philosophy Vol. 77 No. 8 August 1980
“The Framing Wars” Matt Bai New York Times Magazine July 17, 2005
“Block That Metaphor” Steven Pinker The New Republic Oct. 9, 2006
Oct. 7 Question for discussion:
“Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell available at http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/Politics_and_the_English_Language-1.pdf and elsewhere
“The All Spin Zone” by Stanley Fish
“Political Language and Political Reality” by Murray Edelman, PS Vol. 18 No. 1 Winter 1985
Oct. 14 Question for discussion: What does language do?
SECOND ESSAY DUE
Write your second essay explaining what the connection between language and politics is, what it should be, and the implications of the (dis)connections.
“What is Fascism? – Speech Act Theory” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws8k1JXmscU
Introduction to Foucault – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGQ4qkp4i-8
Oct. 21 Language and Race
Guest speaker, Barrett Pitner
“Existence and inequality: America needs an existential awakening” The Institute of Art and Ideas. July 24, 2020
“Finding Freecano: Cultivating a Language of Liberation” Grits & Gospel. June 4, 2020
“Viewpoint: America Must Confront Its Original Sin to Move Forward” BBC. June 3, 2020
“‘I Can’t Breathe’ is the New American Anthem. Here’s How We Change That” The Daily Beast. May 28, 2020
“Viewpoint: Why racism in US is worse than in Europe” BBC. May 17, 2018
“Donald Trump and the Second Southern ‘Redemption’” The Daily Beast. July 14, 2017
“2016, Meet 1877: Trump’s Ascendance Is Creepily Like the End of Reconstruction” The Daily Beast. November 16, 2016
“OK, This Trump Thing Isn’t Funny Anymore” The Daily Beast. August 27, 2015
Oct. 28 Language and COVID-19
#ReframeCovid on Twitter
“Disease as a Political Metaphor” Susan Sontag, New York Review of Books Feb 23, 1978
“(Against) Virus as Metaphor” Paul Elie New Yorker March 19, 2020
“Waging War on Metaphors in Cancer and COVID-19” Jonathan Marron et al, JCO Oncology Practice July 31, 2020
“A Fire Raging: Why Fire Metaphors Work Well for COVID-19” Elena Semino CASS July 1, 2020
“No, Governor Cuomo, COVID 19 is not ‘Just a Metaphor’” Robby Soave, Reason, August 17, 2020
Nov. 3 Election Day – Vote
Nov. 4 Third Essay Due
Compare and contrast two readings from the semester so far.
Question for discussion: War metaphor – what is it good for?
“War Metaphors in Public Discourse” Stephen J. Flusberg, Teenie Matlock & Paul H. Thibodeau, Metaphor and Symbol Jan 3, 2018 pp 1-18
Nov. 11 Question for discussion: Do the metaphors we use to discuss crime matter?
“Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning” by Paul H. Thibodeau, Lera Boroditsky, (PLoS ONE 6(2))
Nov. 18 Question for discussion: Do the metaphors we use to discuss health care matter?
“The Meaning and Measure of Policy Metaphors” by Mark Schlesinger and Richard R. Lau, (The American Political Science Review vol 94 no 3 Sept. 2000)
“Metaphors, Meaning, and Health Reform” Sidney D. Watson Saint Louis University Law Journal Vol 54 2010
Frank Luntz health care messaging memo
Nov. 20 Question for discussion: Do the metaphors we use to talk about immigration matter?
THIRD ESSAY DUE
Write about the relationship between metaphor and a public policy
“Indigestible Food, Conquering Hordes, and Waste Materials: Metaphors of Immigrants and the Early Immigration Restriction Debate in the United States” by Gerald V. O’Brien, Metaphor and Symbol Vol 18 No 1, 2003
“No, the phrase ‘catch and release’ doesn’t dehumanize illegal immigrants” Jonathan Tobin The National Review, July 13, 2018 https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/07/catch-and-release-term-for-illegal-immigrants-is-accurate/
Nov. 27 NO CLASS –THANKSGIVING
Dec. 2 Question for discussion: Is language copy of reality, or is it a copy of a map of reality?
An Introduction to Baudrillard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Yxg2_6_YLs
Selection from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation
Dec. 9 FINAL PAPER DUE
NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED
Final Exam due at the end of the scheduled final exam period for the class.
Worth Checking Out:
The Frameworks Institute: http://www. meworksinstitute.org/